Izard family

Selenna Izard
Isaac Izard
Isaac Izard cipher

It's not certain whether they are natives of New Zebedee or not but the Izard family are a force to be reckoned with. Isaac and Selenna are the malevolent creators of the Doomsday Clock that is ticking down the minutes until the End of the World, located in the bowels of their former home, 100 High Street, now owned by Jonathan Barnavelt.

Background

There is no accurate account as to the beginnings of the Izard name in Michigan. It is assumed the family has been around since at least the mid-nineteenth century as Isaac's family had a mausoleum built in New Zebedee in the 1850's [The House with a Clock in its Walls; 36]. Both Isaac and Selenna were probably born in the latter half of the 1800s, though, keeping with their mysterious nature, nothing is known of their early years. Unknown, too, is how the two met. Selenna was "pretty strange...as you'd have to be to choose Isaac Izard for a husband [36]." Must have been one charming wedding: one wonders if people got them clocks as gifts?

At 100 High Street, the Izards added their personal touch to the interior, including Isaac's double I motif, like a Roman numeral II, as explained by Jonathan Barnavelt: it is "carved or painted or stamped on all sorts of things all over this house: the wainscoting, the floorboards, the insides of cupboards, the fuse box, the mantelpieces - everywhere [33]." Even within the tracery of the wallpaper is the undeniable mark of Isaac Izard, though Jonathan notes he should probably get it removed at some point.

It is also unclear how each became warlocks and began practicing the black arts. At some point Isaac's attitudes toward life soured and his intentions were revealed: he would use his wizardly powers to bring about the End of the World.

What called for such drastic measures? Who knows - failed out of graduate school? Trying to impress a girl? Overbearing wizard parents? A dare? Just to see if it could be done? "Because he was," seems to be the easiest answer. Bowen notes Shakespearean scholars also use this approach when dissecting the motivations of Iago, he of Othello fame: because he was.

There are no accounts of their later years - no articles in the New Zebedee Chronicle about achievements or awards or being in attendance at social gatherings - and the older they got, the less they were seen in public. When they were seen they must have made powerful impressions. Selenna is remembered best for her eyeglasses, noted by Jonathan Barnavelt as "two freezing circles of gray light burning into me [36]." She was the first to die "quietly and mysteriously. No funeral. Some strange-looking people from out of town came and helped Isaac bury her [36-7]." Isaac went into seclusion afterwards and would be seen in the uppermost windows of his house staring at the sky, and ironically, died "during a wild thunderstorm… a bolt of lightening melted the iron doors on the tomb Isaac is buried in now."

And there the Izard saga might have come to a close had it not been for Lewis Barnavelt. In the summer of 1948, about five years after Isaac's death, Lewis arrives in New Zebedee to live with his uncle and becomes immersed in the Izard legend, ultimately - and inadvertently - raising Selenna from the dead. Through the course of his adventure we discover that Isaac stared into the skies because he was studying sky magic, the arrangement and patterns of the clouds, to bring about Doomsday. Because of the ever-changing formations in the sky, he created a device - a clock - that would tick down the minutes until the next perfect formation...the next time the sky would be right for his incarnations...but in the final seconds before Judgment Day Lewis destroys the device, ending once and for all the power of Selenna and Isaac Izard.

Awakening

Lewis uses the book Necromancy, with a frontispiece featuring John Dee, and the incarnation Aba bēbē bachabē to raise the dead:

From deep within the tomb came a sound. Boom! A deep hollow sound. The iron doors jolted, as if they had been struck a blow from inside. The chain rattled, and there was a clunk on the pavement. The [heart-shaped] padlock had fallen off [87].

Compare the similar incident that Mr. Wraxall encounters while visiting the tomb of the late Count Magnus in M.R. James’ famous short story named for the count:

It was not long before he was standing over the great copper coffin, and as usual, talking to himself aloud: "You may have been a bit of a rascal in your time, Magnus, " he was saying, "but for all that I should like to see you, or rather -"

"Just at that instant," he says, "I felt a blow on my foot. Hastily enough I drew it back, and something fell on the pavement with a clash. It was the third, the last of the three padlocks which had fastened the sarcophagus. I stooped to pick it up, and - Heaven is my witness that I am writing only the bare truth - before I had raised myself there was a sound of metal hinges creaking, and I distinctly saw the lid shifting upwards. I may have behaved like a coward, but I could not for my life stay for one moment.

Lineage

The Izards are some of Bellairs' best-remembered villains and just when you thought they were long gone, author Brad Strickland brings news that the couple's wicked ways were passed down a generation, to that of their son. Ishmael Izard is the antagonist of 2001's The Tower at the End of the World, a stand-alone adventure whose roots go back to Lewis' first adventure.

Conferring with her overseas sources about the strange things afoot in Michigan, Mrs. Zimmermann discovers that the son born to the Izards around 1900 did not die in infancy, as Jonathan long-believed [Tower, 59], but lived to adulthood and is following in the footsteps of his parents. Globetrotting around Europe and Asia since the early 1920s, Ishmael returns to America to finish that what his parents were unable to do themselves: bring about the End of the World. As his parents before him, Ishmael comes face-to-face with Lewis and his friends and is defeated.

Incidentally, Strickland also remedies the situation of the Izard wallpaper in the Barnavelt house, indicating Jonathan has ripped it down since the original confrontation with Selenna [Tower, 53]. Anyone know if such a pattern is commercially available, perhaps to spruce up a rumpus room?

The Name

Isaac may have had the less-interesting, if not more alliterative, name in the family. Selenna [sah•lihn•na], nameless through much of the book, may take her name from the Greek goddess of the moon, Selene, a significant figure in Greek poetry and sorcery. If not, then like Lewis we have "never known anyone called Selenna. [We] didn't even know how to pronounce the name. But there it was [86]."

Interestingly izard is one letter short of the word wizard; however Bellairs points out the name probably "comes from izzard, which in some parts of England is the word for zed, which is the word the English use to identify the letter Z [33]," this bit of etymological trivia was no doubt spawned by Bellairs's fondness of all things British. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language notes this as well, adding that the letter Z is referred to as ezed in Scotland.

This is but one of the many references in the Izard's lives to last letters of the alphabet, both the z and the omega, the last letter of the Greek alphabet. The omega could almost be considered a symbol of the family, what with the elaborate plans for the End of the World (see alpha and omega). Jonathan explains this symbol even graces the front of the Izard mausoleum: "when [Isaac] had it fixed for his wife's body, he brought in a stonecutter who chiseled off the family name and carved an omega. [92]."

After being raised from the dead, Selenna mugs around New Zebedee and moves in across the street, attempting to finish what Isaac started with the clock, and takes the inconspicuous name of Mrs. O'Meagher to hide her true intentions. This is a somewhat hidden pun on Bellairs's part, though it is unknown how he wanted it played out: the letters could be rearranged into "her omega" or he might have intended the pun to be more aural than visual, having the word pronounced as "Oh-MAY-gar" in the Boston accent he heard since moving to Massachusetts five years before.

Bowen notes that if Bellairs intended this name to be read punningly (as seems certain), he had to be suppressing a real memory of the actual name. "A couple of years ahead of us at Notre Dame was a stellar student of literature named John Meagher, a protégé of Frank O'Malley's that he made sure all his students knew - even freshmen. To the best of my recollection, when we first heard his name, it was pronounced 'mayer,' like that of the movie mogul; however, when he came back to Notre Dame the following year (after, I believe, a visit to Ireland), he had changed the pronunciation to 'MAH-her,' as it is (for a fact) pronounced in Ireland. John may have remembered these various pronunciations, none of which sounds like the last part of 'omega' even in Boston, but he may also have reckoned that virtually none of his readers would hear O'Meagher as anything other than 'Oh MAY grr.' Those living east of the Connecticut River might recognize a perfect homonym, but for others it would be close enough."

Charles Dickens, of whom Bellairs was a devout fan, also writes of a similarly named character, Mr. Izzard, in the book Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44). Other prominent Izards include United States General George Izard (1776-1828), for which Izard County, Arkansas is named. The name also brings to mind the clothier Izod - but it's doubtful Isaac was much into designer sweaters with reptiles on the pocket.

Adaptation

The Izards are also the only family of villains that, to date, have been adapted for film or television. Mary Betten portrayed Selenna in the 1979 television production of The House with a Clock in its Walls.